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How Does Your Brain Solve Problems During Sleep?


Sleep is an essential part of life. We tend to lose our sleep when we have a problem to solve. Each time we have a problem, we remember our parents telling us that “things look better in the morning and to sleep over it.”But what do we do? We roll our eyes, and without thinking about the effects of sleep,we continue to worry.

Do we know the importance of sleep in solving problems? Do we understand sleep is crucial in boosting our other cognitive functions? This blog will talk in detail about the importance of sleep and other benefits of it.

How does the brain solve problems while sleeping?

First, let us understand how the brain solves problems when we sleep. When we are awake and trying to sort through a challenging situation, our typical go-to approach is to write the pros and cons. But when there are too many bullet points to go through, rate each one in order of importance. Sometimes, this technique doesn’t help.

Therefore when you go to bed, your brain immediately gets into a triage mode where it goes through the events of the day and checks if anything is unfinished. If it picks up on an emotion that happened immediately or after an event, the brain uses these memory tags to indicate that these events are crucial and there is more to figure out. It’s how your brain tells you it can help you.

Two elements make it happen—the part of the brain that handles decision-making, known as the prefrontal cortex, shuts down. So now, your brain can freely associate each memory tag and process it in the background. 

As you sleep and enter the REM stage, the neuromodulator norepinephrine and serotonin are turned off and take a back seat. Norepinephrine helps you focus on immediate issues, which is why most of us refuse to listen to others’ brilliant ideas during a crisis or a deadline. But when serotonin doesn’t work, researchers are unsure what happens, but they suggest that the brain starts to identify looser connections as valuable.

With both the neurochemicals turned off, most fragmented ideas come together, and once you wake up from sleep the next day, you would have had a decision, and it feels like a gut decision you cannot explain. 

Does staying up late help in solving problems?

The answer to the question is a simple no. We may know a person, or we may be that person who turns the problem over and over while waiting for sleep. But our brain wants us to think about an issue and move on to the next. However, most of us hold on to one thought and think about it for a long time. When this happens, we start to regret triggering a rush of adrenaline that takes time to cool down. 

So it is better to acknowledge a challenging thought and move to the next one. However, doing this is not easy. Different imagery device techniques may work, such as letting a balloon go away or popping it as you move on to the next challenging issue. 

When you move to the next thought, it means that its existence is no more an issue. But if the thoughts keep returning, then it is a problem. There are different ways to calm yourself. Suppose you are worried about the iron not being turned off; instead of worrying, you can get up and check.

And for less immediate issues, keep a notepad close by and write down a reminder for the next day. This will help you see an important task that you may forget. It doesn’t help to get up in the middle of the night to work on the problem as you may be exhausted the following day without any decision or solution. 

What are the advantages of sleep?

Besides health benefits and solving problems, sleep is also good for you in different ways. They are as follows: 

  • Pattern recognition : REM sleep is beneficial in the creative process. Research shows that at this stage of sleep, the brain connects to unrelated ideas that aid in creative problem-solving. 
  • Boosts creativity : With a regular sleep pattern, you receive numerous benefits, including better health, mood, and weight control. It also helps you in thinking more clearly and aids in memory. Thus, ensuring you get creative more easily.
  • Memorising ideas and inspirations : Dreams connect experiences that our brain tries to make sense of our thoughts and memories. Dreams help cement experiences into our memory and may prove to be inspirational. 
  • Engaging the wakeful mind : It is said that regular sleep patterns encourage our brain to unlock creative imagination that is similar tocreativity when we dream. 

What are the tips to sleep better?

Here are some of the tips to ensure that you sleep better:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time daily. It is also essential to wake up at the same time every morning, including on weekends.
  • Ensure your room is quiet, dark, comfortable, and relaxing.
  • Say no to electronic devices, such as television, mobile phones, and computers at least 2 hours before bedtime
  • Do not have large meals, alcohol, or caffeine before bed.
  • Be active. Being physically active during the day helps you easily fall asleep at night.


We knew that good sleep was beneficial to stay healthy, but now we also know it helps us solve problems. Next time you get into a challenging situation, it’s best to sleep over it and find a solution the next day. A proactive investment in your health helps to generate long-lasting benefits for you and for your family. Plan for a healthy tomorrow with Apollo ProHealth today.

Verified By Apollo Neurologist
The content is medically reviewed and verified by highly qualified Neurologists who bring extensive experience as well as their perspective from years of clinical practice, research and patient care
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